FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The old cliché is that you cannot judge a book by its cover. When it comes to Northern Arizona University junior golfer Kaitlyn Saum, that adage certainly holds true.
"I love horsepower," says Saum. "Just ask my entire team: anytime we see a Camaro or fast car drive by, I'm always looking at it. I don't know why I'm such a motorhead, but I guess it's just that inner-tomboy persona from growing up around that kind of stuff."
With her grandpa working at General Motors as she was growing up, Saum from an early age took up a specific fascination with cars and motorcycles. Today, she continues to share that passion with her father, Andy.
"I feel like it's something my dad and I can do together, where we can get our hands dirty and look to solve a problem as to why something isn't working," Saum confesses.
But messing around with car parts under the hood of her 2010 Chevrolet Camaro—what she affectionately refers to as "her baby"—isn't the only bond Saum and her dad share. He, too, is responsible for instilling within the Lumberjack junior a love for the game of golf.
As a child, Saum and her dad would frequent the local driving range to tee-off and talk about life. With each and every visit, Saum's swing would improve and her interest in the game continued to grow. Before long, the native of Mesa, Ariz., was joining tournaments and making connections.
"I guess I just had a natural swing so we kept going," Saum said about the trips to the range with her father. "As I started to play in more and more tournaments, I gained friends and that kept me going as well."
"I love being out there because golf is one of those sports that you can play for the rest of your life. It's very business oriented, so anything can happen on a golf course: conversations, business plans, networking, etc. It's the best of both worlds because you can play it competitively or for fun."
This last notion is true, but when you are as good as Saum has been throughout her collegiate career—especially this past fall season—golf has a way of being both competitive and fun.
Last season, Saum registered the 11th-best single-season round scoring average in NAU golf history at 76.07 and earned a tie for the third-lowest round ever recorded by a Lumberjack at 3-under-par 69. The 2015-16 All-Big Sky second-team athlete carried that momentum over into this fall season, engineering an incredible streak of five-straight rounds at 2-over 74 or better en route to tallying a 77.33 round scoring average.
Saum confines, though, it has not been an easy process and she has not always had the same level of composure she currently has now as a golfer. Even she, a junior collegiately, admits she is still growing.
"I've learned to handle situations better," Saum says. "As a player, I've grown mentally and have developed a deeper appreciation for the sport of golf overall. I'm able to come back from shots that three, four years ago I wouldn't have."
"Looking back at it now, because I'm a volunteer assistant coach for my high school team, I understand how far I've come in a short time frame. I realize I'm more consistent and I shoot under par more than ever. It is fun to see where I'm at now, and I'm excited to see how far I can go."
Surely, the sky seems to be the limit for Saum, who credits a lot of her success to what Head Coach Brad Bedortha and Graduate Assistant Coach Langley Vannoy have been able to teach her about the sport and her attitude while playing it.
The efforts of guiding each member of the NAU golf team toward being their best self and expending their best effort while out on the course and off of it do not go unnoticed. Whether it is the monthly book reports, the assistance from members of Vision54 or the Titleist Performance Institute, or just a kind word of reassurance, Saum notes these coaches always have her—and her teammates'—backs.
"I guarantee I would not be here, as far as my development as a golfer is concerned, if it wasn't for Coach Bedortha," Saum states. "Both his and Coach Vannoy's beliefs in me as a player continue to push me forward. Obviously, you're going to hit bumps and bruises in the road, but they pick us up, dust us off and keep us going. It helps me out on the course to know my coaches have that belief in me, no matter what."
That type of relentless, uplifting support trickles down, too. The women on this team, Saum mentions, are constantly trying to pick each other up while maintaining a competitive edge. It is all about improving day-in and day-out; worrying about the process and pleasure rather than zoning in on the results.
"I just want to encourage my teammates to do better and encourage them to be the best golfers they can be," says Saum. "I feel if I can do that for them, then they'll give it back to me and the rest of the team. If we are 'one' as a team, it will help us grow together and hopefully get another conference ring. I wouldn't mind another piece of jewelry."
For Saum's sake, let's just hope that if the Lumberjacks can score their second Big Sky title in the last three seasons in 2017, she'll at least take that ring off before greasing up the engine of her Camaro.